Community-based Pangolin Conservation

Community-based Pangolin Conservation

Awareness Raising Programme 2013.
Chinese Pangolin.
Training local young people for Pangolin Monitoring.
Project background

Species of focus: 

Country/Countries: 

Site(s): 

Non-protected area, Taplejung District, Eastern Himalayas

Summary description: 

The Chinese pangolin has the dubious accolade of being the world’s most illegally traded mammal. Up to one million animals are thought to have been taken from the wild during the past decade; a loss that has resulted in the Chinese pangolin being recently upgraded to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Chinese pangolins are one of two pangolin species that occur in Nepal. They are widely distributed in non-protected areas, but local communities — often unaware that the pangolin is endangered — have been increasingly involved in the illegal trade. The meat is appreciated as a delicacy and the demand for scales is driven by the market for traditional medicine. The need to raise public awareness about the threatened status of the Chinese pangolin and the laws that exist to protect the animal in Nepal has put community engagement at the heart of a conservation programme in the east of the country.

The project – one of only a handful of community-based pangolin conservation projects worldwide – is being run by the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) with support from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) EDGE Fellowship scheme. Set up in 2012, the project aims to collect baseline information on ecology, status, distribution and specific threats facing the Chinese pangolin, and to generate support for their conservation.

The project focuses on two villages (Nangkholyang and Dokhu) in the Taplejung municipality in the east of Nepal — a transit point for the illegal trade in pangolin into Tibet and India. The population here is characterised by local ethnic diversity and the main sources of income are agriculture, livestock and labour. Most households live close to subsistence level, with some being better off due to income from farming or government jobs (such as teachers). Data from the project has revealed that those who get involved with illegal trade were generally not the poorest.

The project has been designed on the basis of existing local governance. In Nepal, districts are divided into administrative units run by Village Development Committees (VDCs). These VDCs are each subdivided into nine wards. Working with two VDCs, the project has established a pangolin conservation sub-committee in each ward. A representative from each sub-committee is then appointed to a VDC level conservation committee, which is tasked with launching and supporting conservation activities to raise awareness and control illegal trade in the village’s jurisdiction.

The role of the sub-committees in reducing illegal trade in pangolins works on various levels. They are expected to educate those locals who did not realise that killing pangolins was illegal, and to exert their influence and authority over neighbours, relatives and friends who may have been knowingly engaged in illegal activities. Finally, they discourage outsiders from coming into the villages in search of scales because they are ready to inform the authorities and security services. The goal is to tackle widespread ignorance about these increasingly rare animals, and to strengthen community commitment to stop illegal trade.

Representatives on the village sub-committees learn through training workshops that provide information on the Chinese pangolin and the consequences of illegal trade.

Land management type: 

Unmanaged land

Product(s) in trade: 

Product value at site level: 

The price that illegal traders pay for scales varies at local level, depending on the bargaining experience of local individuals and their knowledge of the trade. In the project area, the value can reach US $700 per kg; a 350 per cent increase in local value over the past eight years. Most of the scales are fed into the international market, and their value at their final destination is unknown.

Types of poachers: 

Individuals from local community
Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 

Yes

Implementing organisation: 

National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) with support from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) EDGE Fellowship scheme

Name of funding organisation(s): 

Not specified.

Community organisation(s) involved: 

Not specified.

Was the project established specifically to engage communities in combatting IWT? 

Yes

Year the IWT project or component started 

2012

Project status is currently: 

Ongoing
Community engagement

Financial: 

Not specified.

Non-financial: 

Not specified.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

What “rules of engagement” for working with communities does the case study address? 

Build capacity of local people to tackle IWT
Recognise and strengthen the legitimacy of local communities as critical partners

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Don’t know/Case study/project has not assessed impact on poaching

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented

Further detail about the impact on poaching: 

Before the project began, villagers who came across a pangolin by chance would more likely than not have killed it to have its meat as a delicacy and the scales to sell. Now, however, there is evidence of a change in attitudes. This change is seen in the growing number of cases where locals who come across a live pangolin in the road or fields, choose to bring it back to the village and to the attention of conservation sub-committee members. They then use the opportunity to gather people around to talk about the pangolin and explain the law before releasing the animal back into the wild.
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

Overall, there has been a genuine interest and support for the conservation programme, which helps to stigmatise and discourage local poachers. There is a virtuous circle driven by social cohesion and community values, backed by the threat of enforcement.

The sub-committees form the front line of support and endorsement for the project’s aims. Through them, a total of 263 local people (192 men and 71 women) have been affiliated in conservation work, including surveys, community meetings, workshops and school teaching programmes.

Local leaders were involved in project design from the outset, and the main Nepalese project implementer was himself a resident of one of the villages, which boosted interest.

Local press interest in the conservation project has helped to build stronger community self-esteem, and there is a sense among villagers that their efforts could help them to develop local tourism and gain government support.

What did not work and why? 

Challenges the project has experienced include:

  • There is little direct benefit to the communities from participating in pangolin conservation.
  • The initial high levels of interest and curiosity during the start up phase of the project could be difficult to maintain.
  • Illegal trade is more widespread and more sophisticated than initially thought realised.
  • Illegal traders who used to operate openly — for example coming into villages to buy scales - are now setting up underground networks.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

Lessons learnt from experience of implementing the project include:

  • Communication and raising awareness about the threatened status of local animals influences attitudes and wins support for conservation.
  • Conservation programmes need to bring benefits, directly or indirectly, to local communities if their support and engagement is to last.
  • Illegal trade at a local level is not always intentional.

 

Case study information is up to date as of: 

2016
Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation

Title: 

Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade

Author(s): 

Roe D (Ed)

Year of publication: 

2015

Journal/Book/Series details: 

A contribution to the symposium "Beyond enforcement", South Africa

Publisher: 

IIED

Place published: 

London, UK
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Ambika Prasad Khatiwada

Date of case study entry: 

Thursday, 18 August, 2016